The daily life of an opera chorister is dictated by the whims of the opera that they are singing. Sometimes, composers can’t get enough of the chorus; in operas like Turandot or Nabucco we only leave the stage long enough to change costumes and prepare for our next entrance. But other times, it seems like the composer… umm... well… kind of forgot about us! In operas like Così fan tutte or Die Meistersinger there are lengthy breaks between entrances. So what is an opera chorister supposed to do backstage when we find ourselves on one of these breaks? For many of us the answer is easy: read a book!
We've had a Met Opera Chorus Book Club going for a few years now and have read (and discussed backstage) a wide range of literature from Infinite Jest to Between the World and Me to The Brothers Karamazov. But this year we want to do something different; we’re focusing on the operas we're performing this season, and opening our club up to you!
Each month, we’ll pick one book based upon an opera currently on the Met stage. Sometimes it will be source material or background, sometimes another telling of the same story, and maybe even sometimes a book just barely related that we've been looking for an excuse to read! When the opera opens, we’ll post an article about that book aound opening night which we’d love to turn into a discussion with you on our Facebook Page.
So, without further ado, here are the three books we’ll be reading to open the season:
September: Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger
for La bohème by Giacomo Puccini (opening September 25th)
The Met opens its legendary Zefferelli production of La bohème on the second night of the season. Where better to start then to go back to the stories that inspired the opera? If you are an ebook person you can get it free here, but if you prefer your books made of paper, there is a pretty good chance you should be able to find it at your local bookstore (mine is from The Strand which, as of writing, has a few copies).
October: Marnie by Winston Graham
for Marnie by Nico Muhly (opening October 19th)
Hitchcock's 1964 film made substantial changes to the plot of Graham’s novel. Muhly goes back to the source material for the opera's inspiration and is more faithful than the film to the original. This is going to be a little harder to find; the New York Public Library has no copies (!), nor does the Strand (!!!). However, a kindle book and a hard copy are available on Amazon.
November: The Master and Margherita by Mikhail Bulgakov
for Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito (opening November 8th)
With a story as well-known as Faust, we can probably stray a bit further from the source material. Sure, you can (and should) read Goethe’s Faust or Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, but this is a legend that has been told many times, and maybe nowhere with as much madness as in this book. You shouldn't have any trouble finding a copy of The Master and Margherita at your local book store.
3 Months, 3 Operas, 3 Books!
So there it is: Part 1 of the Met Opera Chorus Book Club! We hope you can join us on this project. We'll all gain some new perspective on the operas we know and love, and strong foundations on those that are new to us.
See you at the Met and Happy Reading!
Edward Hanlon, graduate of McGill University and University of Michigan, is a happy Long Island boy making good with the Metropolitan Opera. Favorite roles include Figaro, Sparafucile, Dick Deadeye, Sarastro and Nick Bottom with companies such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Lincoln Center Theatre, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Des Moines Metro Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. He spent this past summer singing on a cruise ship from the Mediterranean to the Baltic with his beautiful wife, soprano Tanya Roberts. His first novel is is due to be released
at the end of the 2019-20 season
... umm... someday? Check out his website and follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.